A Life in Topshop

As the brand disappears from the high street, one devotee recounts a life amongst the rails of one of the high street’s biggest fashion brands.

Topshop/Topman’s Flagship store, Oxford St, London

They say you never forget your first time. That hallowed day, when instead of steering me towards the local branch of Tammy Girl, my mum guided me left at the traffic lights and straight into the sliding doors of the local pinnacle of suburb cool, Topshop, is seered in my mind. Practically hyperventilating with joy as I toured the rails, I had a fashion epiphany somewhere around the back wall that hosted the Moto denim collection where I found my first ever Topshop purchase, a tiny denim mini.

Later that year, released into the wild for the first time with my tween friends on Oxford Street, we naturally made a beeline for the mothership of 214 Oxford Street. The shiny store – which had only opened a year before – was a sensory overload to our 12 year-old brains as we swarmed through endless racks and display stands across three floors. The pilgrimage to the flagship store quickly became a regular Saturday afternoon fixture for us when our local branch no longer cut the mustard.

In my late teens, I even worked at Topshop – albeit briefly – in the stockroom of their Richmond branch in South-West London. Okay, the early starts to unpack and hang coats meant I only lasted eight days but I still managed to pump my entire meagre salary back into the store (sadly, I didn’t last long enough to qualify for the staff discount).

Over the years, my friends and I have often debated what store summed us up – some have become ASOS queens who trawl the new-in section daily while others are sophisticated Zara cool girls but for me, my spirit animal was always the Queen of the High Street, Topshop. While I’ve long physically grown out of many of my first purchases, my wardrobe is full (okay, bursting if you ask my husband) with much loved treasures from twenty-something years of loyally burning my money at their tills.

It’s not only my personal life – and wardrobe – that has been marked in Topshop highs (hello, silky leopard print shirt in the sale for a fiver) but my professional one too. On the first rung of the fashion ladder during an internship at Glamour magazine, I was overjoyed to be handed a spare Kate Moss for Topshop lookbook from the supermodel’s debut collection that still sits on my shelf. When a very kind fashion editor at the same publication scored me the red pansy dress at a press pre-sale, they were rewarded with my moon-eyed devotion to their call-in lists for the rest of my time in the fashion cupboard.

Kate Moss launching her debut collection for Topshop in the flagship’s window, 2007

Years later, when I finally became a fashion editor myself, a crowning glory happened on an otherwise non-descript Tuesday. Sitting on a stool in the windowless in-house studio waiting for a shoot to start, an exciting email dropped into my inbox. From the Topshop press team, it was marked ‘keep an eye out today’ and when I read the holy words of ‘an M250 discount card is arriving by courier’ I was genuinely rendered speechless.

I had finally made it! I had been baptised by the Fashion Gods themselves! I was on the same list as Beyonce (wow! We’re pals now, right?) and Gwyneth Paltrow (okay, not quite as wow as Queen Bey but still). Topshop had been swallowing a chunk of my salary before but now with 40% off, I was basically consenting to them taking ALL of my money. rose gold lettering may have long worn off that first card but it has remained in my possession as a reminder that wonderful things can happen when you least expect them.

And of course, who could forget the fashion shows? At the height of Topshop mania, an invite with an assigned seat to the Topshop Unique show was literally THE golden ticket at London Fashion Week. Allowing access to a lunch reception beforehand, hungry fashionistas often bunked off the show before to make sure they didn’t miss some of the best catering of the week and the free-flowing champagne. Scoffing tiny bowls of culinary wonders in an achingly cool venue, I would ogle the milling celebrities before sitting down on those white benches to watch a show that would be guaranteed to be full of the season’s It-models. And of course, a FROW that vied equally for spectators’ attention – usually where Anna Wintour would be first sighted upon arriving in the capital. Several times, I even had the dubious honour of featuring in papparazzi shots as I sat behind her, Kate Moss and Philip Green.

That’s my giant Afghan scarf lurking in the second row. Image: REX Features

Years after Unique disappeared from the schedules, I was working at Topshop’s parent company Arcadia when the news rolled in that the company had gone into administration last year, aptly on Black Friday. What I had been told by colleagues would be a fun day in the office suddenly had a very dark cloud hanging over it as we waited to see what would happen. Weeks later, I was in the studio we shared with Topshop/Topman when the news broke that e-tailer ASOS had bought Topshop and would be closing the stores as well as the stand-alone website along with laying off the majority of staff in the transfer. The permeating sadness as colleagues took calls to find out their fate is one that still forms a knot in my stomach when I think of that day.

There have been many casualties of the pandemic on the British High Street but I, like many, never expected the jewel to fall out of the crown. Perhaps it is age but even though Topshop lives on in its new digital-only home, the magic that the brand sprinkled has significantly dulled. There will be no more Saturday afternoon mooches amongst the rails and for me at least, the joy of scrolling is no longer holds the same appeal it once did on the brand’s new platform.

I’ll never get to return the too-small jeans I bought just before the shops closed once again in December – and in Topshop’s case, for good – so instead, I will treat them as a talisman of sorts; a memento of times when I would sail down the escalators at 214, my fingers drifting along hangers, idly stroking fabrics before plucking one piece out to hold up in front of a mirror to the booming soundtrack.

So, thank you Toppers – not just for the bulging wardrobes but for all of those little moments of magic that I found. From watching your shows to raiding the sales and finding the perfect dress for that special occasion, I’ll forever be in your fashionable debt, literally.

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